The Telegraph Journal: Saturday, October 5, 2002 

Jubilee tour sparks debate

Monarchy's value under scrutiny as Queen criss-crosses country

BY BOB KLAGER Telegraph-Journal

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II swept pomp and ceremony into Canada's barren north hours ago and the buzz in New Brunswick feels about that far away. If the start of this cross-country Jubilee tour is warming the most fervent fans, Day 2 of the Royal visit sees most here still casting halfhearted glances toward the odd headline or newscast.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh arrive next Friday in New Brunswick, where their schedule, one refined to the minutia of whom they'll greet and how far they'll walk to a receiving platform, seems orchestrated more for the privileged than the adoring follower.

Loyal subjects that we are, we'll await the chance walk-about encounter, and acquiesce to the formality.

But try meddling in Canada's contract with the monarchy and we are not amused - nor moved, nor even really bothered, for that matter.

Such complacency is nothing to be proud of, says Tom Freda, National Director of Citizens for a Canadian Republic (CCR), a non-profit organization advocating the abolition of the monarchy in favour of a democratic republic.

The fledgling Ontario-based group has established a Fredericton chapter just in time for the royal couple's arrival in New Brunswick. And Mr. Freda says more chapters will emerge nation-wide in the coming weeks, buffeted by what he calls a "groundswell" of public support for change.

"Canada is a country that's known for being advanced in so many things," he says. "But for us to say an issue that half of Canadians agree with should not be addressed really does not make much sense."

Marjorie Harrison sees where this is headed and refuses to even entertain the debate.

"The Queen is the head of state whether you like it or not. She's the head of state of 16 Commonwealth countries, so it's not just something somebody dreamed up," sniffs Ms. Harrison, the New Brunswick chair of the Monarchist League of Canada.

"They can scream and rant all they want, but it ain't going to happen."

Ms. Harrison, whose husband Bev Harrison is speaker of New Brunswick's Legislative Assembly, will be among dignitaries scheduled to meet the Queen at Old Government House in Fredericton next Friday. And while she admits the Queen is "always going to be a bit aloof" because of her upbringing, Ms. Harrison insists the monarchy is increasingly aware it must move with the times.

"Members of the Royal family have been here several times and anybody who's had a chance to meet any of them will realize they're pretty special people," she says. "They probably know more about Canada than we do."

Therein lies the rub, says Mr. Freda. For all our diffidence as a nation, he suggests a firm grasp of our identity - if not true sovereignty - should be at least achievable.

"Being a neighbour of the U.S. has moulded our national psyche over the last 200 or so years and has probably contributed greatly to the perpetuation of the monarchy and of our constitutional monarchy situation," he says. "We feel that every country gets to a point in its evolution where it has to address these things."

Although the Statute of Westminster recognized the independence of Canada more than 70 years ago, the Crown was firmly entrenched in the Constitution of 1982 by a formula requiring the unanimous support of Parliament and all provincial and territorial legislatures before its status could be altered.

"The mere mention of opening the Constitution sends shivers up some people's spines," Mr. Freda says. "We feel that's a pretty sad thing, that we should stagnate progressive change in this country because we're afraid to open our Constitution. It's a pretty pathetic excuse."

If Canadians have occasionally flirted with cutting ties to the monarchy, public sentiment has certainly felt the influence of our elected leaders over the years.

In May 1977, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, miffed by protocol that separated heads of state from heads of government, executed his famous Buckingham Palace pirouette behind the Queen's back.

Deputy Prime Minister John Manley's penchant for musing aloud on the monarchy sparked furor last year when, as foreign minister, he suggested the country would be better off with an elected head of state.

Just this week, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe turned down an invitation to attend a state dinner with the Queen in Ottawa Oct. 13, saying he respects her as Queen of England but doesn't recognize her as Queen of Canada.

Even New Brunswick politicians tote some regal baggage. Former premier Richard Hatfield's contained 35 grams of marijuana when RCMP seized it from the Royal plane during the Queen's visit to the province in 1984.

Premier Bernard Lord's is his decision to forgo on an optional oath of allegiance to the Queen when he was admitted to the New Brunswick bar in the early 1990s.

The realm of public opinion in the lead-up to the Royal visit is buried in reams of jubilee-year polling data. One study, conducted earlier this year by Leger Marketing, revealed just half of Canadians support preserving the country's connection to the monarchy.

At 63 per cent, British Columbia was most in favour, followed by Alberta, the Prairies and Ontario at 56 per cent, the Atlantic provinces at 52 per cent and Quebec at 29.

But perhaps more surprising were results indicating that 41 per cent of those polled in Atlantic Canada, an arguable bastion of British links, were against maintaining the monarchy. Opposition was only greater in Quebec, where 65 per cent of respondents wanted the Crown abolished.

Bolstered by a recent motion in the Quebec legislature asking the British monarchy to officially recognize its role in the 18th-century Acadian expulsion, New Brunswick's significant Francophone population will be watching the Royal visit closely for signals from the Queen.

But Euclide Chiasson, president of the National Society of Acadians, warns against drawing parallels between a people's search for atonement and a universal condemnation of the institution.

"Some (Acadians) are very strongly in favour of the monarchy," says Mr. Chiasson, who has not been officially invited to attend any events with the Queen. "It's in respect for that institution that we have asked for this recognition. If we didn't think it was worth our while, that the institution was worth our while, we wouldn't have done that."

That a painful past still evokes strong emotions doesn't mean, necessarily, Acadians believe Canada's system of government must be overhauled, he adds.

"I think, fundamentally, we might be more republican but there are some good arguments for that institution, one of them being (that) it's lasted so long. There must be something in it," Mr. Chiasson says. "If there are stains on that Crown - and I think there's one, particularly when we're talking about the deportation - it would be a very nice and honourable gesture to recognize that."

Mr. Freda's organization is also taking a conciliatory approach to the Queen's tour, assuring that members won't demonstrate at Royal stops during this week's visit.

"We don't feel that making any personal attacks on the Queen is in our interest or in the interest of Canadians," says Mr. Freda. "We're made up of Canadians who just don't feel that this is a personal issue.

"The Queen is our head of state . . . and while she is here, she should be treated as such."

However, the line separating some avowed agents of credible change from shock-driven abolitionists is thin. Case in point: it takes just three computer mouse clicks to move through links from the CCR's Web site to a satirical, if highly disrespectful, Internet page revealing a nude portrayal of the Queen.

It just proves groups that traditionally operate on the fringe are at an inherent disadvantage, says Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick.

"That's exactly why they're not taken seriously and won't be for a while," Prof. Desserud says. "It's hard for them to move into the mainstream, on the assumption they want to."

Where organizations such as the CCR might find purchase is in their ability to link arguments the monarchy is outdated to what many people recognize as a "dysfunctional" parliamentary system in Canada, he adds.

"It strikes me that if they're really serious about reforming our system of government, they should concentrate on our electoral system, on our party system and on the Office of the Prime Minister . . . and move off the question of the monarchy."

Even then, Prof. Desserud suggests there's likely widespread reluctance to court the upheaval a republican birth would require in Canada.

"There is a genuine nostalgia for what the monarchy represents, and that may be enough given the amount of effort it takes us to maintain it," he says.

"Overall, it's seen as something benign. It's not seen as something worth really worrying about."

In his 1997 bestseller debut, Why I Hate Canadians, Canadian author and royal-bashing nationalist Will Ferguson, a former resident of St. Andrews, shrugs off the monarchy as an idea whose time has long since come.

"They are like walking corpses, the standard-bearers - or rather, the pallbearers - of a world view preserved in pickle brine and withered elitism," he writes. "Let's get one thing straight. Royalty exists only through an act of wilful ignorance on the part of their subjects.

"Call it suspension of common sense. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is not king - he's an anti-monarchist."

Mr. Ferguson's book of essays drew swift criticism from Her Majesty's fiercest defenders. However, his sentiment isn't lost on those who consider the House of Windsor little more than a stodgy anachronism of Canadian society.

A constitutional monarchy just doesn't resonate with today's younger generations, says Sean Taylor, a 26-year-old geographic information systems specialist in Saint John. It really hasn't, he insists, for the past 10 or 15 years.

"I think of the old adage, 'the dinosaurs are dying each day,'" says Mr. Taylor, whose parents were both born in the United Kingdom. "I think as the old guard passes through our political system . . . our attachment to the monarchy is going to diminish.

"As far as the 30 and under crowd goes, I just don't see how, in our time, we've had any attempt at making that connection."

Like many that welcome a truly independent Canadian identity, Mr. Taylor's view is shaped by apathy more than it is any sort of contempt for the Crown.

"I think everybody draws their heritage and some sense of what Canada is from the monarchy, but for a progressing country, I don't think we're going to rely on their traditions as much in the future," he says. "I think there's been a real shift in the way everybody thinks about these kind of antiquated hierarchies. It doesn't play into any sense of being that I have."

If the monarchy debate in Canada has become largely academic, it seems it will take more than perennial rumblings for reform to quell the colonial fervour expected to greet the Queen in New Brunswick.

"This is a time in this province of great pride and confidence and considerable hope for the future," says Lt.-Gov. Marilyn Trenholme Counsel, the Queen's official representative in New Brunswick. It's a future Ms. Trenholme Counsel is confident will be witnessed by many successors to Old Government House.

"I think the people judge the whole issue of monarchy, to a large extent in their own provinces, by the way the lieutenant-governor functions and what kind of contribution we make and, literally, how hard we work."

Through the social causes each lieutenant-governor embraces as their own, Ms. Trenholme Counsel believes "we have made a difference (and) have to continue doing that to justify the costs of the office and the very comfortable lifestyle I have."

In the end, she believes, people make the distinctions between the traditions of the formal institution and the active role it still plays. In the end, she believes, people can appreciate the Queen as head of state and as a person.

"It comes down to a very human relationship: Her Majesty with the people," Ms. Trenholme Counsel says. "All the meetings and all the planning and all the details kind of fade into the background when you have her lovely presence."